What was once the province of outcast writers and hungry young actors has turned into a cottage industry, with almost annual releases of films like the Van Wilder series and 'Date Movie.'
The effect has been a cheapening of the category, a reduction in the ability of these films to reach out to an audience wider than hormonal teenage males and occasionally their similarly addled female classmates.
Which makes the 'Tropic Thunder' even more of a treat for those of us no longer easily amused by fare written for the young and easily amused.This film is hilarious. It succeeds on a number of levels, several of which, to steal from the British, take the piss out of Hollywood. That it features an ensemble of several 'A' listers, mocks the box office best, as well as the biggest names both on and off screen, only deepens the appreciation you can have when seeing this film.
Imagine 'Apocalypse Now', mix in a bit from 'Rambo', a sampling from Eleanor Coppola's documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now, along with a handful of other Vietnam war films, and then add in a mix of any over the top agent, a cutthroat studio head, and completely beyond the pale shooting conditions in a remote location, and you have the ingredients for this remarkably smart and even insightful take on the world's most popular medium.
Even the opening scenes of the film show a wit and humor that takes you deeper into the characters than you usually get in 2 minutes. I'll leave it there, but just stay tuned for the previews, and watch each carefully, carefully enough to know when the movie starts, and when you've become part of the joke.
This is really smart comedy, of the likes seen only recently by Sasha Baron Cohen in 'Borat,' but seen before in classic set-ups like 'Airplane.' Ben Stiller's Tugg Speedman is every action hero who has put in too much time on films with Roman numerals at the end of the title. He's also the only apparent character in this film who claims to have read the script the cast is supposed to present. Jack Black's Jeff Portnoy has issues, big issues, sex and drug issues, which keep the laugh coming, even if it the kind of stuff that a Jack Black character has been known for. Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, an Australian multiple Oscar winner who undergoes pigmentation enhancement to portray a black US GI, almost steals the film, particularly with lines like 'I don't read the script, the script reads me' and 'I know what dude I am. I'm the dude playin' the dude, disguised as another dude!'
And even some major stars take on supporting roles here. Matthew McConaughey goes slightly over the top as Speedman's agent, true to his client to the very end. Nick Nolte has a surprise in store for us as the former vet who wrote the story about which the action film is based. And then there's Tom Cruise. Man, Tom Cruise has been pilloried in the tabloids and across the board for many of the roles he has taken, for his off-camera choice of faith, and family. But can that boy who once danced on screen in his tighty whities act. This film is worth the ten bucks just to see Cruise in his fatsuit as studio bigwig Les Grossman, the grossest and most focused on-screen character since Mr. Creosote from 'The Meaning of Life."
Yes, Hollywood can do Hollywood well. In the last decade Robert Altman did a fantastic take-out with "The Player" and Barry Sonnenfeld had some fun with "Get Shorty." But what we have in Tropic Thunder goes further, cuts deeper, and causes more pain from the laughter than any of these others.It will be interesting to see if any performance here garners an Oscar nod. Both Downey and Cruise render remarkable performances, and should be put into the mix.
These types of films don't usually receive end of year accolades. Tropic Thunder may be one to break from that spell.